I called Mayburn right away. It was nine o’clock Rome time, two in the afternoon in Chicago. “What do you know about the witness protection program?”
“Nothing, really,” he said.
“Know anybody who does?”
“Well…” I heard him making a clicking sound with his tongue, as if he was ticking off the potentials in his head. “Hey,” he said then, his voice a little excited, “I do know this journalist in town. Pulitzer prize winner, all that stuff. He wrote a bunch of articles and then eventually a book about this guy in the witness protection program who saw the murder of a senator. He hired me to dig up background on some of the people in the book.”
“Think he’d talk to us?”
“What do you want to know?”
“If my dad was in the witness protection program. Or if it’s a possibility.”
More clicking of the tongue.
“What?” I said.
“I’m wondering if you should be leaving this whole thing alone.”
“Like you’re leaving Lucy alone?”
I got up and walked to the window, looked down at the dimly lit path that wound through the stone busts. It struck me at that moment, looking at those statues, those torsos of the dead-was making them a way to try and keep the person alive? To remember them? Was that what I was doing here in Rome, figuratively creating a stone bust of my father as I pushed at what might be nothing?
“Will you call the journalist for me?” I asked Mayburn.
“I’ll try him,” he said. “You going to be around for a while?”
I looked around the dorm room. I should have been out in the midst of a Roman night. But as magic a city as Rome is, the thought of finding my father was more so.
“I’ll be here,” I said again, and hung up.
I lay back on the hard, thin dorm bed and finally thought about Theo. I take it back. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been thinking of him. I’d gotten a text from him, the day I left. You around? he’d written. It’s the weekend, and the only place I want to be is with you.
Today, after he hadn’t heard from me, he’d texted, How was your weekend? I missed you.
I hadn’t answered either text. I wasn’t ready to let go of my farewell with Sam, and if I texted with Theo it seemed like moving on. And as much as I knew I needed to do that eventually, I wanted to make sure I was thinking about the goodbye with Sam, feeling it and what it meant for us. It wasn’t hard. Those few minutes in Sam’s apartment were unrelenting. It wasn’t so much the memory of Alyssa (although that thought tortured me when I let it) but rather the recollections of us-of his arms, our clinging to each other like the last survivors of a boat crash-that were making me sick. So sick that aside from my first big meal outside the Piazza Barberini, I’d eaten little. It was why I was fine to simply spend time in a dorm, searching around on the Internet for clues about my father, to spend my night in a tiny room wondering.
And now that I was waiting for Mayburn to call, now that I couldn’t think of anything else to do, all I could really focus on was this big, hollow-as-hell feeling and the memory of that moment with Sam, that moment that said, It’s over. Truly, truly over.
I looked at my cell phone, thought about calling him, but then I realized that a message had come in sometime during my call with Mayburn.
“Izzy,” I heard when I checked my voice mail. I knew that kind, soft voice. Lucy.
“I’m not sure where you are,” she said, “and you probably won’t recognize this number. I’m using my sister’s cell phone. She’s in town, visiting me. I don’t feel like being alone with Michael, even though we’re trying to patch things up. He swears he didn’t tape my conversations or anything in the house, but he admitted he heard me talking to you, making plans to meet you at the nature museum. I guess he’d come back in the house and I didn’t know he was there. He says he might have mentioned it to Dez. He can’t remember.” She laughed under her breath. “That sounds like such a bunch of crap when I say it out loud, but I’m still back to wanting to be a hundred percent sure before I end things with him.” A sigh. “Anyway, I wanted to see how you were. I’ve been afraid to call you because I feel like I made that whole thing happen at the museum. I shouldn’t have involved you. I’m really sorry.”
Holding the phone, I shook my head at it. It was me who had involved Lucy. I had only brought trouble into her world with the work I’d done with Mayburn. Because of me, her husband was awaiting trial on money laundering charges and a host of other things, and she was poised to be a single mom. On the other hand, Lucy had told me after Michael was arrested that she was relieved, because he had been a nightmare to live with, emotionally abusive to say the least, and when he was gone she felt she could breathe for the first time in her life.
I was staring at the phone, thinking, when it rang.
“Hey,” Mayburn said. “He’s around, and he’ll talk to us.”
“The reporter. Weren’t we just talking about that?”
“Yeah, but I just got a message from Lucy.”
“What did she say?” His voice was quick, flat.
“She was calling me from her sister’s cell phone. She wanted to check on me. She was apologizing to me.”
“I know. She’s the sweetest person on the planet.”
“In the universe.”
“You miss her.”
“Yeah. But it doesn’t help to talk about it. Give me the sister’s cell-phone number.”
“Has she given it to you?”
“If she had, then why would I be asking you?”
“I’m not giving it to you. You need to let her have her space.”
“I need to make sure Lucy is okay.”
“She’s okay. You know that. You just want to call because of you, not her. You can’t take being apart from her. Believe me, I understand.”
“I’m not giving it to you for your own good. But I’ll hold on to it, I promise. So, this reporter,” I said. “How do I talk to him?”
Mayburn exhaled. “I’ll call him and conference us in.”
“Damn, you know how to make things happen,” I said. “I appreciate this.”
“Yeah, yeah. Hold on.” There was quiet for a moment and I took a breath, staring at an old photo, cheaply framed, that hung on the dorm wall-a shot of the sun hitting the dome of a Roman church in a silvery green stream of light.
“Iz, ya there? I’ve got Stephen Gooden on the line. Steve, can you hear us?”
We all said our hellos. “So, what can I help you with?” Stephen said. He had a resonant, academic-sounding voice. “Something about the witness protection program?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s something to do with my father. I guess I’m just wondering exactly how the witness protection program works.”
“Well, for starters, there are a couple of different kinds of programs. The federal marshal program, the U.S. Attorney’s program and the state level.”
“What’s the difference between those three?”
“Well, the federal marshal’s program usually involves a witness in a case with the Justice Department or the FBI. The U.S. Attorney’s office has separate funding to protect people who might be witnesses in an upcoming case or something like that. And then there’s the state version. Local police or almost any law enforcement can put someone into protection mode. None of these programs are much fun.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re essentially social services. They set someone up with an identity, give them a little cash or a new job and turn them loose. After a year, no more financial assistance. Used to be they didn’t even provide any papers or documentation. Today, there’s still very little follow-up.”
“So, does that mean that the person can come out of hiding at anytime?”
“It’s not exactly hiding. But, yeah, it works something like that. I mean, a federal employee can’t stay with someone twenty-four hours a day in order to make sure a witness doesn’t get themselves into trouble after the case is over.”
“How do you know if someone is in the witness protection program?”
“You don’t. That’s the whole point.”
“So they just go away forever?”
“Look, do you want to tell me what drain we’re circling around? I mean, is there something more specific you want to know?” He didn’t say this unkindly. In fact, he sounded as though he wanted to help.
So I told him about my father’s helicopter accident. I told him what the flight instructor had said. “From what you’ve heard, Steve, is there any chance they faked his death and put my father in the program?”
“Doesn’t sound like it to me. In every case I’ve heard of they take the whole family.”
“What do you mean by that-‘take the whole family.”
“That’s not the right way to say it. What I mean is that they’ll usually put the entire family unit in the program. The point is to keep everyone safe. The whole faking of the death thing is really just a myth. In actuality, you disappear. They don’t tell people you died. It’s too complicated to find a body and have a funeral.”
“There was no body in this case,” Mayburn said, speaking up. “Does that red flag anything?”
“No. Like I said, they wouldn’t usually just eliminate one person. They’d make the whole family disappear.”
“The family just takes off?” I asked.
“Essentially. They say they’re moving out of town to take a new job. Sometimes, the program doesn’t let them talk at all-they just move ’em in the middle of the night. But faking deaths? The government doesn’t do that. I mean, your father would have to have been so instrumental, so key to a massive case or a huge federal program. Even then…I really doubt it.”
The disappointment, layered on top of the sagging sadness of what was left of Sam and me, made me take a few steps to the bed and fall back on it. I held the phone to my ear. I heard Mayburn asking the guy a bunch of other questions. I thanked Steve, thanked Mayburn, said it was late Rome time, and hung up.
A bouquet of sounds came from the room above me-music with loud bass, footsteps, scraping of furniture, laughing. I could almost see the group of students who were up there-I’d been one myself years ago. They were drinking Moretti beers and pulling off hunks of bread from the local market, gesturing with the bread while they talked about politics and international law and the professor who would administer their exam tomorrow.
The music got louder. More scraping and shouts of laughter. As much as I wanted them to shut up, I was envious of them. But then I remembered my own friend. Maggie was coming tomorrow. The thought gave me a burst of energy.
I sat up, turned the lights up brighter, put my own music on-blaring a Wilco tune-and got back on the Internet.
The Camorra, I learned from my research, became a powerful force in Naples in the 1800s, when its members acted, essentially, as law enforcement for the Bourbon monarchy. When Naples officially became a part of Italy, the Camorra was forced aside. But they were never eradicated from the city of Naples and the Campania region, and they once again became a powerful presence in the mid-1990s with control of the area’s garbage disposal. Apparently, they hadn’t done such a good job-no regard for the environment, much less the health of residents-and yet officials couldn’t get them out, couldn’t put an end to the warring clans of Camorra, who all kept fighting each other for control, making it unlike the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia or the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria. The Camorra infighting led to massive violence in Naples, most notably drive-by shootings which often killed civilians, as well as Camorristi.
I sat back from my computer. I thought of my aunt Elena’s words that morning. Dangerous, she had said about the Camorra. You must be very careful.
Was it just the Camorra in general that she feared? Or specific people inside the organization? Could it be that one of those people was my father? And why hadn’t she been more surprised or alarmed when I’d talked about hearing my father, wondering whether he could be alive?
I leaned forward and typed a search for Camorra and United States. The site I found mentioned the Rizzato Brothers. They had been Camorra, but since their disappearance, no one knew whether there was any Camorra left in the country. The exact nature of the Camorra’s presence in America currently is unknown, said another site. Another final site stated simply, The Mafia in America, the Cosa Nostra, is almost wholesome compared to that of Naples’s Camorra.